By Lisa Johnston, Tour Guide, Belfast City Sightseeing
Enjoy a stroll around the grounds of Belfast City Hall and discover some fascinating facts about the city and its history.
When the Countess of Shaftsbury sold land to Belfast Corporation for the building of a new City Hall back in the late 1800s, it was on the condition that the new building would have ample grounds for the public to enjoy. And how lucky we are today that she had the foresight and wisdom to do so.
Because a stroll around the grounds of this magnificent building brings Belfast’s history to life – and what’s more, the experience won’t cost you a penny! But before you take in the delight of the gardens, take a moment to look at the building itself.
It was opened on 1 August 1906 which means this grand building is 109 years’ old this year.
Building had begun several years earlier following Queen Victoria’s decision to award Belfast a Royal Charter and city status in 1888 in recognition of its thriving industry at the time.
The City Hall is affectionately known as The Wedding Cake on account of the tiers of the building. Quite appropriate really as it’s licensed for civil wedding ceremonies!
If you’re interested take the free guided tour inside the City Hall. It takes around 50 minutes and is excellent. I’ve done it many times myself and always learn something new each time! Outside and right at the front of the building is a statue of Queen Victoria who has the distinction of being the longest reigning Monarch in British history.
She reigned for an astonishing sixty-three-and-a-half years from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. The statue, which is made from Sicilian marble, was designed by Sir Thomas Brock who was an expert in recreating her image.
He also designed the Imperial Memorial to Queen Victoria in front of Buckingham Palace as well as designing the image of her head on British coins of the era. The statue was unveiled in 1903 by Queen Victoria’s eldest son, King Edward VII, who had succeeded her on her death.
By the way, the City Hall is only a few minutes’ walk from either Stop No 1 or Stop No 20 on Belfast City Sightseeing’s hop-on hop-off open-top bus tour. So do all, or even part, of our tour and hop-off here to see this glorious building and its grounds for yourself.
Next to Queen Victoria’s statue is a memorial to the United States of America’s Expeditionary Force or USAEF. It’s in total contrast to Queen Victoria’s memorial as it’s a very simple column made from Portland stone.
If you look at it closely you’ll see the inscription ‘USAEF first landed in the City 26 January 1942’. They had come here to join with the Allies in their fight against the Nazis during the Second World War.
The memorial was originally situated at the gateway to the City Hall and was moved to its present location and rededicated on 30 November 1995 by none other than President William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States of America.
Incidentally, President Clinton took part in another engagement when he was here that day, an event which some would say was much more important – he switched on Belfast’s Christmas lights!
Now, you can’t come to Belfast without discovering something about our most famous ship – the RMS Titanic. And around the side of the City Hall, facing Donegall Square East, is the official Titanic Memorial.
The statue features the Greek goddess, Thane, who was the personification of death. She’s holding a black laurel wreath of death in her hand and at her feet are two sea-nymphs holding the body of a drowned sailor. The memorial is facing eastwards towards the Harland & Wolff shipyards where the Titanic was built.
On the side of the memorial are the names of 22 men from here who died in the disaster although subsequent research showed that there were actually 28 men from here who perished in the tragedy.
The names are listed in order of shipboard rank rather than alphabetically as was the practice at the time. There are about a dozen or so statues and memorials in the grounds of the City Hall for you to enjoy so take your time to see them all – there’s an information board to the left of the main gates which tells you where they are situated.
And when you’re ready for a bite to eat, pop in to the Bobbin Coffee Shop which is on the ground floor. Their Irish stew is served with Irish wheaten bread and is delicious – just don’t expect to get a knife and fork! You’ll be given a spoon because that’s how we enjoy our Irish stew here in Belfast!
So make sure to take advantage of Belfast City Sightseeing’s 48-hour hop-on hop-off open-top bus ticket and hop-off at either Stop No 1 or Stop No 20 to see for yourself just what Belfast City Hall has to offer.
The free guided tours take place at 11am, 2pm and 3pm Monday-Friday and at 2pm and 3pm on Saturdays.
The Bobbin Coffee Shop is open 9am-4.30pm Monday-Friday and 10am-4pm on Saturdays. The building is closed on Sundays and on some public holidays. Contact details as follows: